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This is my story on how I became a world traveler without breaking the bank, and why putting off college was best.
Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel it by yourself. It is not far. It is within reach. Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. Perhaps it is everywhere — on water and land.
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
“What does your tattoo say on your arm?”
I can almost guarantee this is the first question that surfaces from the mouths of strangers when they catch a glimpse of the small text tattooed on the backside of my forearm. I usually proceed to lift my arm so they can get a better look. “Journey”, in bold, black letters, is what’s symbolically etched into my skin (and no, not after the band from the ’80s!).
This tattoo is enrooted in meaning, much deeper than the ink that is embedded in my skin. Something that I will never regret when I am older.
(Edit: I wrote this when I was 19 and now that I’m editing this as a 26-year old…I definitely regret it! What was I thinking?! And the meaning isn’t all that profound — it’s very skin deep. What a tragic blemish on my body!)
Even if my skin starts to sag, even if it begins to fade; the experience of getting the tattoo was a journey in itself and will always remind me of the moment I put my desire to travel over my fears of running out of money or not making it.
Taking off on my solo adventures was a journey of self-discovery. Ultimately, traveling has led to my decision to live my life to its fullest potential, rather than wasting it away by following the high-school-to-college-to-workforce route, paying bills until I die.
A World Beyond Bellingham
After graduating high school, I decided to pick up and leave my hometown of Bellingham, Washington. Bellingham’s a decent-sized town in the top left corner of the US, right next to Canada. This town had been my world until I decided to pick up and leave its 32 square mile borders that encapsulated me.
With a population of only 80,885 residents, I was ready to meet the other seven billion people that inhabit the world outside of my cozy, suburban town. It was probably a combination of the same gray, dreary weather day in and day out; seeing the same faces and because I finally reached the age of “adulthood” and wanted a taste of absolutely unrefined freedom that led me to actually making the leap and hopping on a plane. So where did I go next?
Somewhere warm, and sunny where I didn’t know anybody. Somewhere within the US that still felt like living in a foreign country (I had just turned 18 at the time and the thought of moving out of the country right away scared me a bit financially. Fortunately, I’ve figured things out and have even written a book on how to make money as a Laptop Entrepreneur).
All Roads Lead to…Miami?
Where did that lead me to? Miami, of course. But once I got there, I wasn’t satisfied with staying in one place. I saw staying still as idleness. Stagnation.
I realized instead of opting for the high school to college to workforce pipeline, I was instead skipping the middle step and entering straight into the workforce. I just wasn’t ready to give up on my freedom. Pursuing my desire to travel the world — without being tied down by a traditional job — became my focus.
Somehow, this pursuit led me to travel to more places than many people will visit in their lifetime. Miami. Honolulu. Tokyo. Singapore. Indonesia. Las Vegas. San Diego. Washington D.C. New York City. Panama. Costa Rica. Finally to where I am based in Europe, where I’m known to snag some last-minute Ryanair flights, hopping on a plane to some of the world’s most beautiful cities to explore some of the more obscure little towns and countries in Europe.
During my travels, I got only a sliver of insight into the world and discovered people and cultures far different from that of the typical “Bellinghamster”.
My journey is not over, and my wanderlust is only piqued at new heights.
For many people, travel is an unattainable dream, not achievable in the now. Not something available in your prime years, but rather when you’re a little older (and if you are older, remember it’s never too late to travel the world! There are boundless resources available to older people to travel free or dirt-cheap, too).
The only time many (falsely) think they can travel is after retiring with hundreds of thousands in the bank. Or, perhaps after saving up and cutting costs while working a nine to five job, just to take a week’s vacation off and return back to the monotonous working life.
My goal in writing this story is to debunk the myth that you must be older, wealthy, or retired to travel the world.
Breaking Free from the Mold Via Travel
Allow me to walk you through a brief history of my life so that you understand why I chose to spend my life as a digital nomad right after high school, instead of taking the cookie-cutter route of university or entering into the workforce straight away.
You see, I was a 4.0 student in high school. I had taken nearly every AP class available to me, spent my high school years with my nose in a book completing assignment after assignment after assignment in the hopes of landing a spot in an Ivy League school.
This is the plan I thought I wanted: After studying for four to six more years in university, I’d work as an intern or start some other low-paying job being somebody’s bitch in order to climb the “ladder”. After reaching the top and having other people working for me (hopefully by the age of 50, realistically by the age of 60 or 70), what is the point?
What benefit does all the money and riches serve me when I am too old to trek the steep hills throughout San Francisco, to sail the world on a boat, to party all night, and wake up feeling ready to take on the rest of the day in India?
(Edit: 26 year old me here, yeah… I definitely don’t have the energy or desire to party all night)
Despite being 19 years old, I broke free from conventions and quietly proclaimed to myself, ‘screw going straight into school, screw working in my little ol’ town; I am going off to experience the world.’
Through becoming a digital nomad, I’d reckon I’ve packed more life and experience into my years than many 80-year-olds have, who haven’t taken the leap. Who haven’t packed their bag. Who haven’t explored worlds beyond their own. There’s much to be gained from life when you explore uncharted territory, take risks, and pursue what you love doing.
For more on how to become a digital nomad— even if you’re broke — order my book, Journey On.
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